Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Human Evil: The Only Kind There Is
by Ed Thompson

Human Evil: The Only Kind There Is

Author's note:
This is the first in a series subtitled: "The only kind there is." This specific subtitle is meant to call attention to the unique dynamics of living as a human being -- as opposed to living as another type of creature, or existing as a non-living entity. For example, rocks or stones aren't ever considered evil, and there is a good reason for that. Much of the past failure to adequately delineate such basic concepts as good, evil, happiness, virtue, beauty, and love stems from an inadequate conception of the unique nature of man. I am of the opinion that much of the philosophical indecisiveness regarding these basics concepts would be removed upon a prior and adequate understanding of man's nature. This series is my attempt to forward such an understanding of what it means to be human.

My subtitle states that there's only one kind of evil in existence (the "human" kind). What I'm trying to say with this is that the very concept of evil rests upon the existence of living beings that can act in a productive way -- according to their nature -- or that can, with the "help" of volitional evasion; act in a manner (ie. destructively) that is entirely opposite to their very nature. Now, acting in a manner entirely opposite to your own nature sounds like a recipe for suicide. But this is not literally true. While it is definitely a recipe for death, the sinister procurement of a "scapegoat" often spares the evil-doer from meeting his own demise. In effect, the death and destruction which universally stem from evil action is "transferred" to other living beings (ie. the "scapegoats"). Rand wrote about how evil requires the sanction of the victim, and how it would be powerless on its own (ie. that evil requires a measure of altruism, in order to even exist).

This idea that someone innocent will suffer (a victim; but not the person committing the evil acts) is central to what it is that evil is. This transference of consequent suffering (from the destructive or evil acts) is one-half of what it is that is essential in the recipe for evil. The other ingredient to evil is a militant evasion on the part of the evil-doer. To be clear, evasion does not have to be blatant and wholesale, in order to qualify as evasion. For instance, it has been wondered whether or not Rand's Fountainhead character "Ellsworth Toohey" was indeed truly evil (dastardly as he was), because he seemed to be so calculating as to not evade any relevant facts. In short, he seemed to know exactly what it was that he was doing. The evasion that Toohey engaged in was more subtle than most would pick up on, and it has to do with the very nature of man.

Toohey's evasion was not an evasion of one of his personal responsibilities to others -- as so many evasions are -- it was a wholesale evasion of rational morality, per se. His evasion was so broad as to be easily missed, unless integrated fully with what it is that rational human existence commands. The lie that Toohey preached was one of self-sacrifice for a greater good (ever heard that one before?!), and he cashed in on it. Like a televangelist, Toohey kept his audience in chains -- a captive audience being the most profitable kind to have. Keep their spirits low, and offer them some kind of redemption -- such is the age-old recipe for most all of humanity's ills. Toohey was evil, there's no doubt in that, it's just that he was so good at being evil that his evil escapes the usual detection. The talking point is that evil folk know exactly what it is that they are doing -- they are just choosing to not play by rational rules (and they find scapegoats to "pay' for their transgressions).

In summary, evil involves 2 necessary ingredients:

1) a scapegoat (because "somebody" has to pay for the destructive behavior), and

2) militant evasion (because evil or destructive behavior is antithetical to the kind of existence -- ie. productive existence -- which is proper to man).

Now there are definitely degrees of evil. Some degree of evil is all around us. I notice some degree of evil almost every day. This does not mean that I (or anyone) must retreat and become a hermit -- in order to extinguish all evil from our lives. That choice would be sub-optimal. There are too many folks who have some evil in them, but still harbor some good, for us to write them off wholesale -- upon their first evil act. The things to watch out for are a person who militantly avoids introspection or any questioning of their motives, while simultaneously offering up others as sacrificial animals. The key is consistency. Truly evil folk are completely consistent in their behavior. They are almost predictable.

The easiest historical example of evil might be Adolf Hitler who, through militant evasion, irrationally held that the Aryan race was superior and entitled, while holding down the Jews as the scapegoat for any and all of society's ills. Dealing with evil is unavoidable, dealing well with evil is something we ought to learn how to do well. It has been said that the only thing that evil "listens to" is brute force or coercion -- that all attempts at persuasion with "the evil" are doomed a priori. Rand herself said that compromise with evil was, itself, evil.

As we go through our lives, we will have to make difficult decisions regarding the extent that we allow other folks to "scapegoat" and the extent that we allow other folks to "evade." In some cases, the healthiest thing may be to completely write someone off -- to erase them from our lives, per se. In other cases, however, it may be healthier to examine the factors leading another toward evil behavior -- in the attempt to thwart their initial incentives for evil action, and to invest in their untapped potential. These are judgments we must all make for ourselves, and this is the responsibility that rests on our shoulders -- if we are serious about living among others prosperously.
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